The Transformation of Olympian Dotsie Bausch
Dotsie Bausch spent years struggling with disordered eating and drug abuse, and attempted suicide before seeking help. Her recovery started a remarkable transformation that led her to take up competitive cycling and rise to the top of her sport long after many athletes were established in their careers.
It was while she was preparing for the 2012 Olympics in London that Bausch decided to begin eating plant-based. Although she worried that her diet would hurt her performance, she went on to win a silver medal in women’s track cycling at the age of 40, a record for the competition. In addition to her Olympic medal, she’s won eight US national championships, two Pan American gold medals and set a world record. She now credits the food she eats for her incredible athletic performance.
We spoke with Dotsie about her experience going plant-based.
How do you feel your plant-based diet has affected your performance as an athlete?
My athletic performance improved immensely after switching to a plant-based diet. I dropped animal products in the few years leading up to the 2012 Olympic Games for ethical purposes, at first fearful that it would impede my performance or even cost me my spot on the team. I found, however, the switch to plants had the exact opposite effect— I felt like it became my secret weapon. I could breathe better during training and literally ride circles around my teammates who were many years my junior. What’s more, my recovery time decreased immensely. I didn’t have to spend nearly as much time resting from the grueling workouts as I used to, which meant I could train more often and get stronger, faster. As the oldest athlete in my discipline at the Olympic Games, I also attribute my plant-based diet to the incredible longevity of my 13-year cycling career. It truly has made the most positive impact of any single training decision I have ever made.
Why do you think you saw such an improvement after you went plant-based?
It comes down to the science. Animal products simply slow you down. Both meat and dairy are significant sources of saturated and trans fats which constrict blood vessels and slow blood flow. This obviously impacts performance, as your body can’t get essential nutrients and oxygen to your working muscles as fast as it could if your vessels were operating at full capacity. I also found that dairy drastically impedes recovery. Due to several components found in dairy — including trans and saturated fats, foreign sugars (like Neu5Gc), and a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio — dairy can be a highly inflammatory food. It is also exceedingly low in antioxidants which are needed to combat the free radicals and inflammation produced by intense exercise. By switching to a plant-based diet, I was able to eliminate this excess inflammation and combat the exercise-induced inflammation by eating antioxidant-rich plant foods. Fun fact: a whole foods, plant-based diet is 64 times as antioxidant-rich as an animal-based diet!
What kind of changes did you experience in your overall health? Did any surprise you?
I saw a drastic improvement in both my performance and recovery. To give you some perspective, I was able to move 300 pounds on the inverted leg press before going plant-based, but right before the Olympic Games, I had gotten up to 600 pounds x 60 reps x 5 sets! I felt a huge change almost overnight in the way I felt — really, I just felt awesome and ready to crush it every day. And yes, given the popular knowledge that we need animal products to be fit, I was very surprised. I didn’t have to work even harder because I had made this diet shift; I could use it to my advantage.
"Just try it. You don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to commit forever. Try with just one thing. Swap the yogurt in your smoothie for a frozen banana or some coconut yogurt. Try that for a week."
Are there other people in your life who were affected by your decision to go plant-based? How have they handled that?
My parents, they are amazing — in their early 70’s and about 99% vegan! Some teammates, friends, and random folks who contact me all the time telling me they made a change after they heard my story. We just never know who might be listening and how many lives we can save by sharing our truth.
Aside from eating plant-based, are there other health or wellness tips that you follow to keep you feeling good?
I truly believe in being active and giving back. I still go for long rides on the weekends with my husband, and I love the feeling — it’s like freedom. During the week, I enjoy going to hot yoga. My work at Switch4Good, while demanding, is also so rewarding. I know we are making a difference, and it’s this purpose-driven work that gives me so much joy and keeps me going.
Do you have a favorite plant-based recipe or meal that you can share?
Penne with Creamy Butternut Squash Sauce! This is a perfect date-night-in dish. It’s luxurious and filling but also easy to make and packed with energy-providing carbohydrates, protein and a healthy amount of fats. I love to customize it with whatever veggies I have on hand.
Any advice for readers who are considering going plant-based?
Just try it. You don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to commit forever. Try with just one thing. Swap the yogurt in your smoothie for a frozen banana or some coconut yogurt. Try that for a week. If you’re successful, try swapping out one more food. You can do it gradually and you don’t have to “start from square one” if you slip up from time to time. Also, start looking at recipes and trying new foods. Plant-based eating can be so diverse and delicious — you might find your new favorite food! Finally, connect with your “why.” Whether you want to go plant-based for ethical, social justice, environmental, or health reasons, be really clear on your motivation. It will help you see it through.